Monday, December 31, 2007

We've only got five billion years 'til the shops close

Looking back over the past year, I am mostly grateful to have it over. Educational experiences are very well and good, but it's possible to have enough of them. That said, everybody would get bored if I started listing all the positives that came out of an inauspicious year, stuff like seeing friends and family taking amazing leaps into new opportunities. Instead, here's a little Tennyson, and best wishes to everyone in 2008.

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

Friday, December 28, 2007

No snark

Just a link to Wonkette's gallery of images surrounding the Benazir Bhutto assassination. Wonkette asks whether the uncensored photos of the immediate aftermath make it more real for viewers or whether it just desensitizes us to the violence. I tend to think the former and that we are too used to images of fireballs but not the human aftermath. I also notice that there are almost no women in the crowds at the rally or, later, at the funeral. Is that life as usual, that absence of 50% of the population? Bhutto was a polarizing figure partly because she was a woman in power, and I wish there were some discussion of why her countrywomen are not mourning her in public.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

So we meet again, my furry friend

Progress! Last night's work on Cappi was excellent, all things considered. We're getting to the point where he's stopped the major misbehaviours and I can notice subtler problems in him and in my cues, which is the first step toward fixing same. Man does it feel good to come out of a lesson without having ridden through a bolt. Pat was very chuffed; she says that Cappi's getting much more flexible through his back and neck ("Look, he's letting you compress him and stretch him out like an accordion!" For my next trick, I will play "Lady of Spain" at the trot). She also thinks that he's working harder to do well in this class than in others, although since I rarely see him in other work I can't tell. He still speeds up a lot given half a chance, especially if he's behind a horse he thinks he could beat in a race—which is to say, any horse at all—but he's listening to cues and responding more promptly when I tell him not to be Speed Racer. He even reaches for the bit, stretching down and forward as the reins loosen, rather than fighting the contact or trying to evade contact by going sideways. In other words, I'm feeling somewhat warmer toward him than I used to, and it may be mutual.

This time I was S-M-R-T about putting him away: I untacked him and groomed him one aisle away from his stall, so he wasn't constantly trying to duck out and check on his bucket. Like most of the schoolies, he knows enough about tailoring and human nature to recognize the potential of pockets, and I was loaded with candy cane frag. With that to distract him from his missing dinner, I got him cleaned up (and smellin' minty fresh, too) in record time. He's shaggy at this time of year, but with indoor riding and its lack of mud he isn't too hard to keep neat.

Doc got the rest of the candy cane. It may not be as high on his list as apples, but he knows enough to whicker when I reach into a pocket. Then when it was gone he tried to nip me on the hand and I decided it was time to go. At least he hadn't pinned me against a stall wall so that I knocked a water bucket onto my breeches, Grayson. (ETA: I wasn't the one who ended up wet. Grayson has tried that with me in the past, but I've been lucky or fast or both, and these days I bribe him to keep him facing the right way. Another student was not so fortunate.)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

I am a visitor here, I am not permanent

Things I found when I stopped by Teal's apartment on Monday:
  • One fish, not labeled, still swimming
  • One gallon jug of water labeled "Fish H2O"
  • One smaller bottle of water labeled "Plant H20"
  • One ziploc bag, containing about three tiny flakes, labeled "Fish food"
  • One double-sided sheet of instructions, with footnotes, on how to deal with the above, including a declaration of absolution should the first-named join the coral reef invisible
  • Two bars of Xocolatl labeled "[3pennyjane] food"
I could get used to this fish-sitting business.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Who is like the Group of Seventeen?

Today I learned that the key to some of Gene Wolfe's more obscure Shadow and Claw references can be found in Jorge Luis Borges's Book of Imaginary Beings. I was glad to see some description of Baldanders, since Severian's descriptions of that character and of Dr. Talos's play are confusing to the point of hallucination. But the Borges dissertation on the Fish that lives in the mirror is far more wonderful and strange than even the text about Father Inire's attempts to explain the Fish to a young woman of the court.

According to Borges, the ancient Cantonese believed that mirror creatures once invaded our world and were forced back by the Yellow Emperor, who condemned them to repeat, "as though in a kind of dream, all the actions of their human victors....One day, however, they will throw off that magical lethargy. The first to awaken shall be the Fish. In the depths of the mirror, we shall perceive a faint, faint line, and the color of that line will not resemble any other....In Yunnan province, people speak not of the Fish but rather of the Tiger of the Mirror. Others believe that before the invasion, we will hear, from the depths of the mirrors, the sound of arms."

Sweet dreams.

Tending to one's knitting

With Orthodox Christmas a mere two weeks away (we're not just rehashing an old argument, we're also in ur salez, takin advantidge of yer barginz), I'm working on several knitting projects, including a Fair Isle tea cozy. And, really, if anyone's got a more old-ladyish thing to say than "I'm knitting a tea cozy," I would like to hear it.

This is my first foray into Fair Isle knit, as opposed to intarsia work, and I'm keeping the pattern pretty simple, just alternating stitch rows (1-0-1-0, offset each row) and a sequence of small diamonds across the middle. Weebat and I have been exchanging idle thoughts on the options for knitting in code using Fair Isle, since adding a second color doubles the amount of information a given stitch can convey (knit versus purl, color 1 versus color 2). Madame Defarge is the obvious reference, and because Dickens leaves it vague as to exactly how her knitting was coded, we are free to speculate. Binary, we decided, is too unwieldy; you need too many stitches per character. Braille might work, but it would require keeping close track across up to three rows, it's not widely read by the sighted public, and unless you knew someone pretty well you might object to having your sweater read (or not, depending--no judging here). We settled on Morse code, although we were still debating the formatting and hadn't come to any conclusions about the format.

And then it turns out that Kristen Haring got there first anyway.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Caramel corn in the office

As a chilly-blooded member of our species, I spend a lot of the winter whining quietly about the fact that it has, again and completely unpredictably, gotten cold. Yes, yes, cold is relative; I have endless admiration for my friends in New York and Chicago and Minnesota and the plumbing-free outskirts of Fairbanks and other areas where man was clearly not meant to live. I pile on layers of tights and silk shirts and sweaters and scarves and insulating footwear, and sometimes I even reach for chemical assistance, either following my former choir director's very Slavic advice—"[3pennyjane]ochka, you need to do a shot before you come to church. Just one: It will warm you up and give you stronger voice"—or slipping heated insoles into my riding boots.

And yes, now that winter hath gone and descended on DC, riding has lost some appeal. Not only do I have to pile on the long tights, fleece-line breeches, wool socks, multiple tops, polarfleece jacket, down vest, and fingerless gloves under the thin riding gloves, the nippy weather tends to make the horses bouncy and more likely to misbehave. Add to that the challenge of trying to adjust cold stirrup leathers with stiff fingers, and I start to lose track of the fun.

But I rode last night. What with uncooperative weather, travel, personal distaste for riding in a windstorm, and one teacher's season tickets to the Terps, it had been about three weeks since I'd been on a horse. Three weeks! I wasn't sure I would still remember how to find the saddle. But it turned out well: Although the dressage class was full, at six people, for once Cappi and I were not the problem children. I even got him to correctly shoulder-in, walking diagonally with his body in a straight line, rather than bending until he looked like a parenthesis and oodling sideways withers-first. "Hm," said Pat, "That was good. He's getting too easy for you." I thought of his previous bolts and leaps and wondered how likely that was. Conclusion: Not very. But when he is good, he is very very good, and when he is bad I am coping.

Putting Cappi away after a class usually involves some dancing to keep him from bolting back to his stall to make sure that thieves don't make off with his precious bucket of grain. Last night he was particularly difficult, and at least three times I reached for the second cross-tie only to realize that he had gotten behind me by spinning to point back at his dinner. This is the creature who doesn't think he can turn on his forehand in class? Hah. I brushed him down, picked out his feet, and buckled his heavy blanket into place across his chest and under his belly, then I finally stopped being such a cruel bitch and led him back to his stall, ducking past his well-gnawed Bizzyball. He graciously stood still for the two seconds it took me to undo his halter before he dove into his grain bucket, and I got to go back inside where it was warm and there were treats.

...What do you mean, a resemblance?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Wire is hungry

Okay, not the Wire, the yours truly, who is probably nicer and has never tried to suck out anyone's life essence and render them faceless. Well maybe the once.

One of the few missions I had going into Atlanta, apart from surviving and maintaining a veneer of professionalism, was to get down to Ria's Bluebird for breakfast. And I did, although it was hard to crawl out of bed; the preceding evening had involved a party and then vodka and sonnets and conversation until quite late, and my hotel bed was both extraordinarily comfortable and big enough to swim in. But no! Duty! To the pancakes! I staggered out.

My first impression was that Ria's is as much like an Austin dive as I've ever encountered outside that city--decor that's funky without being twee, pleasant forthright waitstaff, a mix of students and office workers and truckers, a cheerful but not overloud buzz of conversation--and nothing dispelled that impression. I can't speak first-hand about most of the menu's offerings, although the biscuits and gravy and the mushroom/brie scramble that people around me got looked excellent and vanished fast, but the buttermilk pancakes with bananas that were set down within minutes of my arrival were, as advertised, fantastic. I had to close my eyes. Two large perfectly fluffy pancakes soaked with warm syrup and topped with fruit that had given up all hope of being a healthy source of potassium, along with pedigreed coffee that was looking for some ass to kick, bliss bliss bliss. Ria's, you guys. No joke. Plan ahead and you can even work off the caffeine high by strolling through Oakland Cemetery, across the street. I did not have the time to budget and had to bolt back downtown to help wrap up the last of our meeting, but I did it with a happier heart.

Monday, December 17, 2007

A lost art

The really interesting authors find the most fascinatin' books to read. BoingBoing points out that William Gibson, who is back on the blogging horse, has republished an excerpt describing a (mercifully short-lived) trend in the 1700s for wearing tin stomachs that simulated pregnancy. I get past the WTFness of that only to find a section quoting the author on how men in these corrupt modern days are dressing like teh wimmenz ("Master Molly has nothing to do but put on his frilly little bonnet and he will pass for a lady, except for his deplorable face").

Goodness! you think. I must find the original work for myself and seek its present wisdom! What might it be called? And that's when the really great bit starts, because it's "ye blockbufter that'f burning up ye top 10 lift!" and the title is to match: Satan's Harvest Home, or the present state of Whorecraft, Adultery, Fornication, Procuring, Sodomy, and the Game of Flatts, and other Satanic works, daily propagated in this good Protestant Kingdom.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Humane only goes so far

The mice avoided the humane traps until I went away for a week. I will leave it to the reader to guess how I found this out.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Tis the season

funny pictures
moar funny pictures

On Monday night, the last full night of our association's annual meeting and the night of the traditional huge party for all attendees, Rock Ninja and I had a lot of fun wandering around the cold-water exhibit in the Atlanta aquarium and making this smoochy face at various creatures, including the sea lions, the belugas, and of course the sea otters, who even at sleepy time were federally controllable levels of cute. The Georgia facility is more open than the Baltimore aquarium, so despite the 2000 guests and associated gate-crashers, there was plenty of room to walk around once we'd gotten through the scrum around the bars. I particularly liked the petting tanks, trying some gingerly contact with a sea anemone, some skittish shrimp ("It doesn't matter how much you've had to drink, we are still not appetizers"), a small shark, a manta ray, some horseshoe crabs, and a sea star. Verdict: Generally slimy and occasionally chitinous in the extreme.

Making Light's links to the online Anglo-Saxon Christmas carol quizzes are live and delicious. One of my few regrets from college was that archaeology classes got in the way of my taking the English department's two-semester class on Old English and Beowulf, but since then I've worked on picking up some of the language here and there. The rhythm and flow of Anglo-Saxon English get me right in the dantian. Not long after the LotR movies came out, quite a few philology texts by and about Tolkien became widely available; Il Padre and I accidentally bought each other copies of the exact same book for Christmas. I don't keep up with the New Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as often as I should (reporting on the weather in 2006: "In þissum wucum heard forst ond great cyle fór west of Siberiam ond Russiam ofer Easteuropam, ond her snaw feoll in Athenai in Greclande"), but I'm impressed by the people who keep it up.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Finding joy

While I was off in the ATL cooing over my fluffy bed and whining about my schedule (unjustly, as mine was freer than many), I got a sobering e-mail forwarded through the church network. A man I knew, actually someone I had a monster crush on from about age 8 through 28, had slipped and hit his head while leaving a New York bar. He insisted that he was fine, but his friends noticed that he was bleeding from the ears and demanded that he let them take him to the hospital. A paramedic who periodically posts at Making Light once said that if you're wondering whether you ought to call 911, you should already be dialing. The doctors found hairline fractures above both ears and some intracranial swelling. He seemed oriented, responding to the time and place questions with "March" and "Pluto" respectively, indicating no damage to the smart-ass structures, and has been doing well since, apart from some blurred vision and a ringing in his ears. Today I got an update that he's being moved out of the ICU, has had the spinal shunt removed, and may be released as early as tomorrow. He may have some damage to one ear and will need rehab and observation, but the prognosis is very good. For this relief much thanks.

After a conversation about C.S. Lewis with a friend earlier this week and since I'm midway through The Narnian, I spent my first evening back rereading The Magician's Nephew for the first time since my teens. As a kid, I found it the least engaging of the Narnia books, what with the tedious logic about the green and yellow rings and the hopping between worlds, but this time I went through it at a good clip and even found myself getting teary at the scenes of creation. Now that I know a bit more about Lewis's mother's death, which by all accounts was slow and painful, I find Digory's temptation to steal a cure for his dying mother much more affecting. Reading it as a child, I don't think that I really understood that she was actually likely to die. I still prefer the allegory in Til We Have Faces, about which I get sniffly no matter how often I read it (dust mites in the binding, maybe), but I am glad to have my old copies of the Chronicles to revisit.


Terry Pratchett has Alzheimer's.

He mentioned the phantom stroke at the LOC bookfair this summer, and I hoped that it was something that his remaining neurons could work around. I want my favorite authors to live long lives, ideally to outlive me no matter how chronologically improbable that is, and to be writing straight up to the moment when they painlessly step out. I am greedy for them to produce more books and have good lives. This seems like a cruel trick.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Singin' the Homeland Security Blues

With apologies to Mr. Cash:

I keep a close watch on these bags of mine
I keep my ID with me all the time
I take my shoes off, and I never whine
For TSA, I stand in line.

It's good to be home.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Und zo, kinder...

I am off down the road where the flight-path lanterns glowed and the pretty little pharma reps are flying. (NB: If you know the source poem, you are a massive geek. Congrats!) I am sad that I will see so little of the city, since most of my time will be spent inside an enormous conference facility, booking it between hotels for meetings in windowless banquet halls, and/or rubbing my sore feet.

On the plus side, howsomever, a friend and I have tentative plans to sneak out on Tuesday morning, having discovered a small local cafe that offers some healthy vegan options...and also biscuits and gravy, enormous heaping breakfast tacos, and buttermilk pancakes with caramelized bananas. I don't see myself digging the tofu scramble, even with the best of dietary intentions, but those pancakes are a whole different story.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Chaucer nedeth a newe payre of shoes!

Reason 2,583,899,024 to love the internets: Because someone is rewriting a Flight of the Conchords song in Middle English. "And ich haue soore nede of thy merchaundise. Aw yea. And ich am yn my red hose, the which aren cleped busynesse hose." Aw yea indeed.

Friday, November 30, 2007

How awesome are couches?

Now we know: Stereotypist's "50 Things" explains, "Couches are exactly 34 awesome. Lamps are 35. There is some tension."

Thursday night's Western lesson was not an unqualified success. Na rabote, we are gearing up for our big meeting, and there are many things that need to be done quickly and well, and what those things are changes a lot. I was doing well staying zen until an unannounced last straw was set in place late Thursday, then I had a quiet mental fit (the secret of being considered calm and level headed in the workplace, it turns out, is making your inner monologue have the meltdowns). The resulting off-kilterness hadn't entirely faded by the time I got to riding, where dammit I was paired with Cappi rather than Doc. To be fair, Mr. Cappuccino behaved well for the first half of class, apparently because he and Evil Grayson were turned out together during the afternoon and celebrated by running, full speed, for most of an hour. All that goofiness had left him stiff and tired, so riding him was like sitting in a chair with one leg just slightly shorter than the others. Teacherwoman Mk2 insisted that he wasn't lame, but he felt just that tiny bit off, a tiny bit that was like fingernails on a blackboard two rooms over. When I tried to canter him, too, I got a pretty clear response: "Okay I will canter two strides and am stopping now." Over and over, that's all I could get. No doubt I was doing something wrong, but it got to the point where I was angry with myself, ready to snap at the teacher, pissed off at the horse, and generally having a crap time, so we went back to walking exercises and then called it a night. (Horseperson wisdom is to end each class with a success, so that the horse walks out thinking of the ring as a place where he is competent. It works on riders as well.) In the past I have ridden while angry or really upset, and the guilt about how it must have felt for the horse has lasted much longer than the memory of whatever got me torqued. These days I make an effort to fix my mood; if I can't, I just call it a day. Why did the Scots invent Macallan, if not for such occasions?

The weekend calls for packing and purchase of essential travel items, such as meal-replacing Clif bars (we're pretty close to developing the food pills of 1920s' SF, it seems), yarn, and an iPod. The veterans of past iterations of our big meeting emphasize the importance of small comforts, due to the lack of larger ones in the average 18-hour workday, and knitting is a useful boredom-alleviation device for those of us monitoring lectures we don't understand. Perhaps I will knit a red blood cell.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

No comment

Nosirreebob, I have no comment AT ALL about this picture of the Expelled Expat in a German Christmas market. Except that the picture reminds me that anybody who hasn't heard the Expat's hilarious tale of her second date with her now-husband is missing out on one of the best "and you went out with him again?!?" stories ever to end in a happy Vegas wedding and shared responsibility for a cyberkitty.

*Frantic dance of disgust*


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Not just for the coffee

It's been hard to get excited about heading to Seattle in February. I have nothing against the city, given that my past brief acquaintance with it has consisted mostly of flying through it on beautiful summer days, the mountain bright under an early-evening full moon or gleaming against a perfect blue sky.* But I do have something against the month, multiple family birthdays and concomitant opportunities for cake notwithstanding, and the few SeaTackers I know grumble about how February is particularly dreary. I was not, as the surfers of my youth would have had it, stoked about the prospect.

HOWEVER. As has been amply established here, my affections can be bought with food. It's common knowledge that Seattle has good coffee, and I follow Orangette's lyrical descriptions of things she's made and eaten there with a voyeuristic glee, but somehow it took hearing about Mario Batali's father's Seattle-area salumeria for it to click that, you know, it might be worth it to sneak out of the hotel, umbrella in chilly paw, and hit the streets for some caloric insulation. Now the NYT has put up a Frugal Traveler article about living off the city's happy hour food, and I'm starting to feel serious hunger pangs. Cascadia's alpine martini, in particular, sounds like heaven: "a vodka martini garnished with Douglas-fir sorbet and an actual cedar frond...crisp, aromatic, inventive and cold, cold, cold." Maybe that's not the traditional remedy for the wintertime blues, but doesn't it sound lick-the-glass amazing? I could find out how the Daily Dozen Donut Company's products measure up against Krispy Kreme's (although it's clear that the name wouldn't scan right in "Doughnut Girl," the world's best song about love, junk food, and Route 1). After Weebat and Herr Professor talked me into a recent jaunt to a local crab house and thereby reminded me of how good snow crab can be, I'm a-drool at the possibility of having some of it superfresh down at the Pike Place Market. And all this is just scratching the surface of the options within an easy walk of the convention site...oh, how choirs of angels sing.

In other words, February in Seattle may well turn out to be just as grey and gloomy as the doomsayers predict, but I'm worrying less about seasonal affective disorder and more about the chance that work will keep me from eating my own body weight in three days.

*I still wonder why I was the only person the Seattle customs guy pulled out for a series of pointed questions about purchase and/or use of illegal smokeables during my Vancouver sojourn and whether had I brought anything of the sort back with me. It can't have been that serious an investigation, since he relied on the "are you telling the truth? really really?" interrogation technique rather than, you know, actually searching me, and I don't think I looked so much stoned as post-camping scruffy (granted, a fine line). I was very polite, because Customs officials have vast power to make your life a living hell, but eventually I said, "Really, I was kayaking every day for a week, I needed every bit of lung space I had, and I don't smoke anything anyway. Do you want to check my bags?" He sighed and waved me on my way to a cab (which later caught fire on the road, for reasons that the driver did not sufficiently explain). Seattle ain't responsible for any of that, though; it's just an odd story.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Cue the Gloria Gaynor

I and the grands survived the weekend intact, despite family aggro and the best efforts of a black Acura on the Beltway yesterday. Metro DC drivers are shite, something that's much clearer after a weekend in the company of Jersey's turnpike-hardened speedsters, and I would've finished out the weekend in a better mood had not that random dink nearly created a single crunchy unit of our separate vehicles. I could also have done without the primly censorious comment from my backseat passenger, who felt that cursing the air blue was not an appropriate reaction to a near-death experience. Oh tempora, o mores, cannot a woman be left in peace to work off an adrenaline surge with some fine Anglo-Saxon imprecations?

Random note: I do not want this shirt, but I'm happy that it exists. [H/T Cleolinda]

The Atlantic continues to tempt me with its evil tempty wiles. This time the editors have republished a weirdly contemporary 1957 article, "Sex and the College Girl." Worth a read, if only to further nail down the coffin lid over the idea that the 1950s were a pure asexual time when everyone knew their place and were happy about it. The dating culture described has changed some since the article first saw the light of day, but the intricate calculus around it still rings a bell.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Consulatory expedients

I am currently road-blogging, having for reasons lost in the mists of what must have been stupendously good drugs agreed to drive some grand-relations to and from northern New Jersey. Draw your own conclusions from the fact that I'm chuffed that I have only once so far had cause to threaten to leave someone by the side of the road.

As a distraction, I am trying to come up with a list of mood-enhancing supplies for a forthcoming week-long conference. Energy bars and fruit and bottles of water are all very well, but around day four something stronger will be indicated. My go-to recipe for truffles (chocolate, cream, butter, and scotch) got nicknamed Naughty Chocolates, but y'all, Dagoba's chili-laced Xocolatl is downright kinky. It's expensive and dark, with a slow burn that builds as the spice prickles through the slightly sweet and undeniably rich chocolate base, and it fades away to a hint of cinnamon and a whisper of citrus. This isn't a treat to snarf down in a search for a ten-minute energy fix; this is something to savor without interruption, phone turned off, lights down low, and a Do Not Disturb sign on the door. (Available as a bar or as hot chocolate, be still my beating heart, and offering some healthy goodness in the form of cacao and capsaicin. You know, if that's what you're into.)

ETA: Some spoilsport must've told the NJTP Starbucks franchise that "éxito aquí" does not mean "exit." Now all the lines are properly labeled "salida." This is a loss.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Poniez update

I have been slack on updating in re: horsey excitement over the last week or so. One reason is that I was good and followed Serbian Doctor Lady's instructions about not horsing for the week following my embarrassment with Doc. I did watch the dressage class, but that was it. This week, though, I got back to my usual solo work with himself, and it was without any negative event. In keeping with the philosophy that life should involve making new and different mistakes, I was extra careful about checking the cinch. Our canter work made me a bit nervous at first, but we managed and I relaxed. I'm starting to focus on a lot of bending and turning work with Doc; it's good for him to get work on his flexibility, and it's good for me to work on having my legs placed correctly during turns. Dressage also went smoothly. I was startled anew at how small Cappi is (I can swing up onto him from the ground, which means that the other English students tease me for my cowpoke ways as they line up for the mounting block), and we went through the usual dance of me trying to find his barrel with my lower legs, but we got our timing down almost perfectly at the walk and trot; the canter we will leave, at least mid-December, which is when Pat and I will be in town at the same time. In other barn news, Iosif and I stopped by the barn last weekend, and I was tickled to hear Doc whicker at me when I opened his stall. Then I remembered the bag of apples Iosif was carrying. Oh well--cupboard love is better than none.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


funny pictures
moar funny pictures

Weebat points out the NYT article in which high-tone chefs, asked what restaurants they themselves like, cite Joe's Shanghai. Soup dumplings FTW! "I love going there and ordering the pork dumplings. Lots of pork dumplings." Word, Chef Sandoval. Personally I am biased toward the crab/pork dumplings, but it's a minor point.

The cats who live on Los Padres' porch have been driven mad by the scent of turkey. Their afternoon kibble was topped with the uneaten leavings from the bird after the main platter was cleared before dish-washing commenced, and now we are afraid to leave the house lest we be buried under piles of desperately yowling cats. Mental note: Do not let the felines develop tryptophan habits.

The average American eats more than 4,000 calories at Thanksgiving. U! S! A! U! S! A! Aerobic exercise for today: Laughing self conspicuous at this.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Completely POSSUM!

Heath Ledger and I have the same gloves. We both look abso-spankin'-lutely ridiculous in 'em, and I for one don't care.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Desultory review: 1491

It took me far too long to pick up 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, but now that I've gotten through it I join the hosannas. It's a kick to come across books that provide such a degree of shock and delight at the breadth of my personal ignorance and at how much there is to learn.

Mann's premise, which he supports with data from linguistic, historical, and archaeological analyses, is that the enormous mass of historical material on civilizations in the pre-Columbian Americas is presented poorly or not at all in most schools and the popular press. He tackles several common misconceptions among lay readers, including the ideas that Indian civilizations were relatively small or isolated, that native groups did not manipulate the surrounding ecosystems extensively, and that the European advantage in technology was the deciding factor in most Indian/European encounters. Mann's counterevidence often left me boggling quietly and trying to adjust to new interpretations of old data: He suggests that disease so far outstripped the progress of colonists that it is almost impossible to accurately estimate the original population of the two continents, but that archaeological and extant text data indicate that the population was almost certainly drastically greater than most of us think; that the enormous herds of buffalo and flocks of passenger pigeons observed by early explorers reflected an ecosystem reacting to the removal of human predation on managed species, rather than a natural bounty; that Indian government provided a model for Revolutionary War activists and Enlightenment philosophers; and that the Amazonian basin's nutritional abundance is in part the result of earlier civilizations' creation of flood-plain orchards. All of that is plausible, but how many of us learned anything like that in school? Did any of us doing our elementary-school Pilgrim pageants ever hear that Plymouth was built using material scavenged from the grave mounds of Squanto's decimated village, or that he may have picked up the trick of burying shad with the corn during his time as a captive in England?

The book has a few flaws. As Mann admits, he's probably getting minor details wrong, but in a lay-oriented survey of thousands of years of material, that's a forgivable offense. I got a bit bogged down in the academic in-fighting about teosinte's role as a maize ancestor, and thank God that there isn't a quiz on the Mayan political scene (although I did get the point: war and backstabbing and economic pressures and drought, oh my). It's more of a starting point for research than a primary or even secondary source, but since those aren't its primary goals, you can take the book on its merits.

It's too much to hope that a book this chock with juicy intel would be well written, but it is. Find a copy for your ainsel; I'll be in the corner, gnawing at the footnotes. Mm, historilicious.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Fortuitous accidents

The joys of geekly conversation include being able to mention a possible head injury to one friend and end up with the links to a couple of free iUniversity lectures by a fascinating scientist studying the relationship between chronic stress and disease. I've had mixed luck with iUniversity before: It's easy to fantasize that I'll spend the endless Metro delays learning about Russian novels or basic anatomy, but in too many cases the lectures don't live up to my hopes. Boring speakers, poor sound quality, material that's out of my league...for one reason or another, a lot of the lectures fall short. Robert Sapolsky's "Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers" and "Stress and Coping: What Baboons Can Teach Us," however, are completely fascinating, like classes with that one professor who made you consider switching majors halfway through college. He's good at boiling down reams of data into clear descriptions of physiological reactions and consequences, then giving advice on how to be one of the "good" responders. Of course, there's a risk that you'll come away with a neurotic desire to check your various hormone levels multiple times each day to make sure that you're not so stressed that you're prone to disease, and that will both increase your baseline stress and probably cut down on your number of friends, further diminishing your coping mechanisms aiee. Caveat lector. Also, the nonendocrinologically educated among us will get the major wiggins about the Peter Pan story he tells, so if it's important to you to keep a sense of childlike sparkling wonder about the book, (a) you're beyond my help and (b) for pity's sake don't learn anything about J. M. Barrie's early life.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Gearing up for appetite

Chez La Mère and Il Padre, there are strong opinions about Thanksgiving, now of course shared by Seesterperson and yours truly. The most important thing is that the food has to be right: roast turkey, stuffing without weird shit like oysters, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry relish AND canned cranberry sauce in slices, a bowl of celery and olives (I came across a reference to a similar presentation in an Edith Wharton novel, so it was neat to hear that this particular item is something my mother picked up from her grandparents), some green beans. Extras are allowed but may not be encouraged to return, as was the case with creamed onions. Dessert is pie, with a choice of pumpkin, pecan, and sometimes sweet potato or, in a few grim years, mincemeat, and heaping dollops of homemade whipped cream flavored with a touch of Mexican vanilla. The drink of choice is Piper Brut. Anyone can propose a toast at any point, but the meal must begin with a toast before anyone starts sneaking olives or a stray crouton from the stuffing.

The culinary traditions are taken so seriously that we have had at least three do-overs. One year I was too sick to eat on the regular day, and life happened for a while after that, so come late winter La Mère went out and found a turkey and the rest of it and sat us all down to the meal because we were going to by God give some thanks, and none of us was disposed to say her nay. Two do-overs happened during years when we had traveled and been served subpar meals elsewhere (my godmother's third husband poured rum into the stuffing "to keep the turkey moist while it cooks!" and the bird tasted like it had died twitching at the DTs), and we all felt like the seams on our clothes were in the wrong places, bad feng shui of the holiday alimentary system or something, until we had the right version of the festal board.

And, of course, this is all completely normal. Like so many people, I didn't realize until fairly late that anyone else was so benighted as to mess with the clear recipe for success. Sure, there are the bizarre suggestions about things to do with turkeys from Gourmet and Martha Stewart and their ilk, but nobody took them seriously, right? It is a relief, therefore, to reread Tomato Nation's screed on Thanksgiving and the sacred nature thereof and to remember that it ain't the food, it's the family.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

All I want for Christmas... a steampunk iPod skin and a tetanus shot. Three Breuget balance spring studs and a yow, y'all.

H/T Boing Boing.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Darwin pwnage, briefly

Favorite Pharyngula comment responding to last night's NOVA program about the Dover School Board controversy: "SCIENCE, FINCHES!" is insanely addictive. If you're a vocab freak and/or kept an unabridged dictionary to hand while reading Shadow and Claw, beware that link.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Weekend Update

In which I promise not to gloat about having Veterans Day off, because if I say anything else about how much I like the benefits at my job, my dear sweet kind loving friends will throttle me with their bare hands and then go drink bizarre nonalcoholic cocktails that make even a hardened waitress grimace.

Long story short, it was almost a perfect routine with a major flaw on the landing. Among other entertainments, I managed to get some yarn for a new project and get that under way, after a couple of false starts; I ate good food at (damn, wait: "come you back, you British soldier, come you back to ah") Mandalay and Hollywood East on the Boulevard; I caught "Blade Runner" on the big screen for the first time in...twelve?...years ("That's Olmos? Son of a gun"); and I did a lovely session on Doc.

Well, I say lovely: We were cantering beautifully, he had gotten the correct lead on his worse side, he wasn't just bowling along without listening, all was copacetic. But suddenly there was a lot of joggly sideways motion. I couldn't figure it out; had he suddenly switched to counter-cantering? A quick glance down, and oh fuck, the cinch is loose, the saddle is shifting, and I'm already 20 degrees off the vertical. Whoa, Doc, whoa, hands on the reins pull back. He is not listening; he is having too much fun running. Thirty degrees off and not slowing down. Things are going very slowly. Kick free of the stirrups. A stupid impulse to reach out toward the fence to make sure I don't smack my head on it. Instead I wrench my shoulder on it as the rest of me passes the point of no return. Aaand that's the ground under my right side. Put my head down in the sand for a minute and sigh. It's over. I'm okay. Doc, who stops as soon as I'm off, glances over in mild confusion, because a sideways saddle and a sudden dismount are not part of the usual routine. I sit up and then stand up, pleased that everything works and disgusted with myself for not adjusting the tack correctly in the first place, and start trying to loosen the cinch the rest of the way. It's tricky, because the saddle is now sticking out from his ribs and the cinch loop is right up on his spine, but I manage it and have all his tack off before Pat and Sassy, who are working in the next ring, even notice. I explain what happened. "We didn't even hear you yell!" says Sassy. I didn't. All that work on Cappi has paid off; I don't swear as much when things go wrong on horseback anymore. "Are you okay?" Yup. I get the blankets on, rearrange the saddle, swing back up. We walk for a while to relax, and then we go back in. I feel fine but plan to pop some anti-inflammatories and pull out a heat pack when I get home, just to deal with the inevitable stiffness.

And then I realize that somewhere in the deep, soft, poorly lit sand of the ring, I have lost my keys.

Update: The muscle soreness materialized as expected. More surprisingly, given that I didn't hit my head or have any abnormal neuro symptoms in the immediate aftermath, so did some nausea and a right bastard of a headache. I hied me to a doctor this morning and was told that things look fine but to take it easy the rest of the week. Can I ride tonight, I ask, thinking about Cappi. "I just told you to rest!" says Serbian doctor lady, exasperated. "No horsing. Just cold packs on the muscles and rest." [ETA: The barn has found my keys, oh sweet miracle, and I will watch tonight's lesson even if I can't ride. Technically that counts as not horsing.]

Friday, November 9, 2007

Old love notes

In going back through some old e-mail, I rediscovered Slashdot's classic interview with Neal Stephenson. One person submitted the obvious question: "In a fight between you and William Gibson, who would win?"

Excerpt: "Gibson and I dueled among blazing stacks of books for a while. Slowly I gained the upper hand, for, on defense, his Praying Mantis style was no match for my Flying Cloud technique. But I lost him behind a cloud of smoke. Then I had to get out of the place. The streets were crowded with his black-suited minions and I had to turn into a swarm of locusts and fly back to Seattle."

Aw man, now I want to fight his brother.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Pony onner string

A tip of the hat to the famous Mr. Pratchett, for his "onner stick," which became hilariously real to La Mère the moment that her roommate bought a deep-fried starfish on a stick at the Wanfujing Night Market in Beijing.

I got Cappi again tonight, and even taking him out of his stall I could tell he was going to be a handful. The chilly weather had filled him with energy, not that he's a poky creature at any time. I cinched my helmet a little more tightly, adjusted his martingale, and hoped for the best. We didn't do too badly during most of the class, what with the trotting and bending and even a laudable shoulder-in. He's listening better or I'm riding better or both.

But then Pat had us canter one at a time at the end of the ring, and that's historically been a troublesome thing with Cappi, who tends to get to where he's supposed to turn left away from the other horses and keep working on his own, decide that they're having more fun, and bolt (see also: adventures in unplanned jumping). I was nervous, because while I've always stayed on it's a bit stressful and makes me feel lame for letting him get away from me, but Pat had a plan. She snapped a longe line on the inside corner of his bridle and sent me out.

Boy HOWDY did Cappi find that confusing. We started trotting, and Pat twitched the line to remind him that she was there, and although he was a little confused, the nudging was fine. Then we got to the Magic Trouble Spot, he bent his head and bolted...and you could have drawn a cartoon thought bubble full of exclamation points right over his ears, because suddenly he was having to spin back around at the pressure of the line, all, "Whoa! What the hell was that!" I clung on and tried not to swear. We slowed down, I got my stirrups back onto the balls of my feet (in times of stress, the human reflex is to go fetal, legs contracting and upper body curling inward to protect the squishy bits, which leads to my stirrups turning into anklets), and we began again at the trot. This time when Cappi bolted, Pat's line almost caught under my foot and pitched me sideways. "You're trying to make sure I fall off this horse someday," I accused her. My adventures in horse-spooking are becoming a barn joke; I really hope that correlation isn't causality here, except in the sense that I'm taking on more problematic horses. She chuckled and promised to look out for the line, now that we had a good fix on Cappi's reactions. And it was only five or six times after that that we got a solid circle at the canter, with no running away or other evasions.

My seat is still not very solid in the English saddle. It's mental, because I do fine bareback and in a Western saddle, but Pat agreed that some more longe work, where I don't have to worry so much about steering and can focus on leg position and seat, will go a long way toward improving my riding. It will also, and this is the BIG SEKRIT, help Cappi be a better partner. If he learns that it's more fun to do what he's asked, rather than whatever he wants (which is followed by people hauling on his mouth to make him stop), he'll be a much better school horse. Fingers crossed.

A break for brief seriousness

Dammit, here's a clue: Whenever a Bush appointee plays coy about expressing an opinion on a controversial issue, it means they're on the side of the bastards. First there was Gonzales' disingenuous demurral about the legality of hypothetical government surveillance, which it turned out he had already helped get going, and now we've got our probably-soon-to-be AG (the Dems on the Judiciary Committee can go to hell for this) just not quite sure if waterboarding is illegal. Here's a discussion of waterboarding from someone who knows what he's talking about, because he's both performed it and undergone it. It's an excellent article and very depressing, because it's going to do very little good under the current regime.

The only chance it's got is as a bit of circulating data. If you didn't think that voting in the last elections was important or you didn't bother to educate yourself about the candidates, it is time to wake up and take some responsibility. Read, listen, take a break if the sheer grimness gets to you, and then get back on the horse. Make the pilgrimage to the majdan knowing that you can make a difference by speaking up.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Alas Millsboro

Herewith a brief review of the 2007 Punkin Chunkin expedition, pending photos and video from various parties involved. The configuration of the new location allows the crowd to stand directly behind even the big air cannons and monster trebuchets, including the much-admired Yankee Siege ("Now that," sighed one woman new to the event, "is a sexy bit of engineering"). The behind-the-pit vantage point made it a little easier to see the pumpkins on the rise, a definite plus, but stiff breezes from Hurricane Noel's passage directed the lighter frag from demolished pumpkins back toward the crowd. Ewwww. Weebat took to hiding behind Iosif in a bid to avoid the fluttering innards, but the rest of us were reduced to picking bits of slimy stuff off one another's jackets. Which, I should also mention, were heavy and layered, because it was damn cold for most of the early part of the event. Still, fun was had, squash was flung, beta carotene-olicious funnel cake was consumed. Full marks.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Ada Lovelace fanfic ahoy

When did steampunk come back around? Even for those of us too lazy or self-conscious to join the dressing up, or to whom the idea of trying to make a DIY steampunk computer set-up is terrifying, the eye candy is sah-weet. I suspect we'll be seeing a lot more of this look once "The Golden Compass" comes out. The steampunk vibe is more organic than pure goth and more interesting than strict Victorian reproductions, but it has a smart brooding edge that pings my inner adolescent. Personally, I covet the Steampunk Workshop's trilobite with cog-laden innards but would not say no to a raygun or even a lapidary pick guard.

In the game of who-influenced-what, steampunk comes across as a concatenation of "Serenity" (which was a little less brass-gears-and-goggles and a bit more cowboy chic), "Stardust" and its flying ship, and "Pirates of the Caribbean," with of course heavy Captain Nemo references, maybe a little Deadwood-meets-Mad Max touch, and the corset/fetish vibe familiar from the goth scene. Eating My Words has a better description of the various fashion phyla that have so far arisen from basic Victorian fashion (if "basic" is the word for it; the Vickies believed in the upholstery school of clothing), including a spot-on note about how quickly certain conventions of pose and costume gel even (especially?) in alternative subcultures.

Unfortunately, given how sexycool I find the whole steampunk ethos, The Difference Engine remains on my No Go list. It would be much more fun to buy some boots.

ETA: Steampunk flux capacitor! Un. Glau. Bich. Even better than the version 2 laptop.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Originally uploaded by jonathanpberger

Happy, happy, happy Halloween, you crazy kids. Enjoy rotting the teeth and warping the minds of the next generation.

Cultural bleed

About five years ago, La Mère and I went to Mexico where the warm winds blow for a week of riding with Cabalgatas La Sierra, Day of the Dead touristing, and DF sight-seeing. The riding was spectacular, right from the moment when Pepe, splendidly photogenic in a huge sombrero and ignoring his black horse's capers as he lit a cigar, met us in front of the stable's arched plaster gate. The cigar lit and installed to his satisfaction, he nodded to the grooms, said mildly, "Bueno, vámonos," and spun his horse on its heels to bolt out onto the roads. I wanted to look around for the film crew, because surely nobody was this much like a 1930's movie, were they?

Although my horse was a true prince of his race and kept me from several nasty falls on loose ground, spending long seven-hour days in the saddle is hard if you're not used to it. So it was that I found myself wandering the cobblestone streets of Valle de Bravo in search of some bandages and tape for a twisted ankle (trust me, you need strong ankles to ride mountain trails). The town had a gracious plenty of small storefront pharmacies, but one after another was flat out of bandages. Was it a translation error? Was I missing the right word? No, the women behind the counters assured me, they knew what I wanted, they were just out of stock. Each recommended that I try the next place down the street, maybe they'll have some. After five or six of these discouraging conversations, one pharmacy came up with a tiny roll of narrow-gauge gauze and some athletic tape, which I eked out to last the rest of the trip. It was weird, though: How could they have so many medications in stock and yet not carry something as basic as two-inch bandages?

Now, Day of the Dead proper starts October 31, with children traditionally given treats on November 2, but there is growing concern at the increasing popularity of Halloween, trick-or-treating, and associated American-type rituals among the Mexican youth--who, no dummies, know that multiple days for getting candy are better than just one. The kids are even starting to dress up for Halloween itself, although they're still asking for calaveras and noshing on pan de muerto. The costume choices are also pretty traditional: witches, vampires, the occasional Frankenstein, all thick with makeup and costumes made from day-to-day clothes. There were one or two Power Rangers in plastic store-bought outfits, but they were the rare exception.

Oh, yes: And there were mummies. OLD-school mummies. Homemade mummies. Mummies dressed not in commercial costumes or skeins of toilet paper, but in yards and yards of carefully-arranged layers of...have you guessed yet? Those damn missing bandages. We found the town's entire stock on the hordes of kids roaming the central plaza with their parents. These kids had gone Method; some of them could barely walk for trailing gauze. I couldn't do anything but laugh--at them, at my confusion, at the image of grabbing a spare end and spinning someone like a top. I hope that the kids keep up the effort. And these days I bring my own first aid kit when I ride.

Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Frolic? Yes please

Colic? No thanks.

There is one thing that seems consistent with horse-based businesses, which is a certain flaky vagueness in the front offices. I showed up for my one-on-one time with Doc tonight only to be warned off riding him or giving him the usual apple: He colicked up hard yesterday and is still recovering. My irritation at the lack of notice is small next to my relief that he's okay.

It sounds odd that colic is such a serious disease in horses, when it's a byword for nothing worse than chronic fussiness in babies. Well, I say "nothing worse," but obviously it's hell for the sleep-deprived parents. Still, colic in humans isn't generally a fatal condition; in horses, the term refers to a variety of issues that sometimes do kill. Horses' digestive systems are one-way roads, so anything they take in has to go all the way through their GI tracts and out the back. Unfortunately, that long coil of innards isn't entirely anchored in place, and sometimes a bit of food gets stuck or a section of intestine kinks like a hose, and the pressure starts to build. If the obstruction isn't moved along or the twist unflipped, the tissue can lose circulation or gas can accumulate; death can come in a matter of hours, often sooner than the vet. Even the vet is hampered unless there's a surgery nearby; you can't really do a sterile operation in a working barn. Colic is more common in stalled horses, who cannot walk and graze all day the way the animals are designed to do, but it can appear in almost any horse.

Horses have not yet evolved to the point of being able to hold up a sign reading, "Hello, I am colicking," but the indications are usually clear: The horse seems dull or uninterested. It won't eat or drink and may begin to sweat heavily. It may turn to look or bite at its sides to try to find the source of the pain. It may exhibit stretches that look like the flehmen response. Given anything like enough space, it will roll and roll (most horses roll for a few moments to scratch their backs; a colicked horse will thrash around for much longer). Treatments depend on the cause of the colic, but walking the horse and letting it roll once or twice at a time is a basic start.

Somehow or other, with the help of a dose of a muscle relaxant called banamine, Doc got things back to where they should have been, but he's still on what Stephen Maturin would call a low diet. I gave his usual apple to QC, then spent some time in Doc's stall grooming him and disappointing him by not turning into a pile of hay. I had missed the barn's annual Halloween trick-or-treating extravaganza, going to a Last Train Home show instead (Eric Brace? Still one of my favorite singers. IOTA? Still my favorite DC-area club, and made untritely Halloweenly with webs of tiny lights and huge glowing orange paper lanterns hanging from the rafters over the stage. Guy wearing a fake furry spider and a Phantom/Harlequin mask, offering cigs to everyone in the club? Still...not sure what was going on there), but the giant bats, strings of novelty lights, and corn shocks showed that the barn staff did a great job with the decor for the trick-or-treating kids. Among the costumed (sorry, Expat, no dancing) horses, QC had been dressed as an Oreo and Sterling as a plumber. The photos cannot come soon enough.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Correcting scurrilous rumors

I hope the three people who read this site regularly don't get too tired of horse gossip, because they tend to get the intel about my job and personal life over e-mail and what's left is largely equine scuttlebutt. People who don't spend a lot of time around horses may well wonder how much you can really say about a horse's personality and exploits, which is something I can't correct without first-hand stories.

Each day, a barn assistant draws up the horse list, assigning horses to each class in a balancing act between making sure that the horses are appropriate for the class level, that nobody injured is on the list, that a horse that's been out several times already gets a break, and that any other problems are addressed. Which somehow is why I didn't get Cappi for dressage this week; I got a choice between Lady, who I've never ridden but who apparently comes with the bound set of Issues, and Grayson, a black-and-white leopard Appaloosa who I've mentioned before is a grumpy bastard with a rep for bad behavior. He is also the only horse at the barn who has thrown me, back in my early days in English training: got out of balance at the canter, he waited until a corner and then threw his head down as though scratching an itch on his knee, and, following certain inarguable newtonian laws, I went right over his shoulder into a full somersault. He then had the nerve to come nuzzle the pocket where I was keeping a pack of mints, all, "Hi! I put you on the ground! Treats now?"

Grayson's ground manners are infamous: He tries to turn his butt toward and kick anyone who comes into his stall (the options are either to offer him a treat first, to bring his head around, or, more riskily, to duck in fast up to his shoulder, grab his mohawk of a mane, and pull his head toward you as hard as you can, after which he will behave perfectly for about five minutes), pins his ears and snaps while he's on cross-ties, rolls his eyes and wrinkles his speckled mouth at anyone who passes by, threatens to kick other horses if they get too close, and will certainly cow-kick at anyone who approaches with a crop in hand (he's bad but not stupid). So why do we put up with all that?

Well, strangely enough, the evil creature is almost perfect under saddle. He used to do high-level competitive dressage, and if he figures out that a rider is the boss (not the case all the time, due to fear or lack of skill), he is a complete dream to ride. I wasn't sure where I fell on his spectrum of respect/ignore. The first few minutes of class weren't promising: Grayson poked along, appearing not to notice my legs, even as I squeezed him so hard that my hip popped. After about five minutes, Pat nodded in my direction: "Want a stick?" "Yeah...this isn't working." And lo, as soon as I had the stick in my hand, he moved out at a fine pace. I never even tapped him with it, but with it in his field of vision we did a full hour of fast and slow trots, moving from one speed to the next at a touch of calf or rein; leg-yields and shoulders-in flowing smoothly to and from the wall; a 90-degree turn using only the hind legs; and even an uneventful canter circle. We also avoided unpleasantness with the other horses, which given that two are young and undertrained and the third is herd-bound and spooky was quite the accomplishment. I felt practically charitable toward him afterward, and his efforts to bite me as I rubbed him down seemed half-hearted. Perhaps there's something to this practice thing after all.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Late-breaking Venn diagrams

Am I the last one to the Indexed party? For lo, it is full brilliant. I always use a Venn diagram metaphor to explain Punkin Chunkin (circle A = rednecks, circle B = engineers, intersection C = airborne cucurbit mayhem).

H/T Light Reading.

We band of what now?

Drat. DRAT. Yesterday was the day of Saints Crispin and Crispianus, patron saints of shoemakers, and I missed it. It's one of several saints' days I try to remember for reasons largely unrelated to church standing, right up there with the days of Saints Thecla and Severian (Gene Wolfe is pretty sneaky for an Aggie). The Crispin/Crispianus connection is the really obvious one about it being part of the speech that, to paraphrase a better writer, reached down the throats of a band of tired wet miserable outnumbered men and pulled them to their feet by their testicles. I'm sure Henry V only wished he'd been that eloquent, but whatever he said did the trick and the rest is just posing for the photographers. Portrait painters. Whatever.

Apropros of the young king's big day, however, herewith an excerpt from the modern version, from the late lamented Mike Ford. I will pay my penance by having "Bon Dieu, achetez-moi un Mercedes-Benz" stuck in my head for the rest of the day.

HARRY. What is not messed with, there we do not mess.
Our beer is strong, our judges paid on time,
And every jerk we whack has whacking won.
So lay it on the table from your boss
And what is up his snoot.

AMB. Let's cut the crap.
You sent a note that him what's runnin' France
Should give a wad of territory up
'Cause Crazy Eddie ran a game there once.
On this, my boss the Dolphin ain't so keen,
Says that you is a, or is smokin', dope,
An' wonders how you got in them long pants.
You risk a grabbing by the wide lapels,
And havin' your hat handed you real hard.
But hey, he pays his markers. So here is
A bunch of boodle that should square things up,
And put this stupid tsimmis in the bag:
So's all the gloves stay on. Thusly the swag.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

All hail Quetzovercoatl!

Quetzovercoatl: Half man, half chicken, half jaguar, half serpent, half scorpion, half mad.

Although he now has to avoid reading fanfic for prophylactic legal reasons, Terry Pratchett has said that writing the stuff can be a useful training exercise for aspiring authors and that one of his own early stories was a Jane Austen/J.R.R. Tolkien crossover fic (the MS is tragically lost to history). He was particularly proud of the scene where the orcs attacked the rectory.

All of which is by way of saying that "The Night The Aztecs Stormed Glasgow" reminded me of Pratchett's gleeful wholesale rummaging through world mythology. Doesn't he seem the sort of man who would appreciate a song that rhymes Quetzalcoatl and anecdotal? For my own part, I cherish the illusion that perhaps such an invasion would have prevented the invention of butterscotch-flavored candy haggis.

[H/T Making Light, again some more.]

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The summertime is fading

We're coming up on the last week of the Silver Spring farmers market, sniff. After this weekend, getting Stayman apples (ostensibly for Doc, really mostly for me) will entail riding a whole stop down the Metro to Takoma Park, which has a larger market but which is a lot more crowded. Also it lacks the European Gourmet Bakery stall, whence comes my cinnamon roll fix. Woe.

But there's still a weekend left for the local market, and this time I am heading straight for Babes in the Woods, a stall that sells forest-fed pork. Yeah, go ahead, figure out the name; it took me a few seconds and then I was torn between grimacing and laughing hysterically. The proprietor and his uber-cute daughter explained how they let the pigs run loose on 78 acres of land, only bringing them in for vet checks or slaughter, and I imagine that the meat is pretty damn good. After missing last week's market for Festing, I was doubly determined to pick up something there this weekend, maybe a pork loin to fix with rosemary and garlic and salt, but then I read Orangette's post about brats and apple compote, and now a pack of sausages has to make the list. Blow winds and crack your cheeks, I'll be fixing comfort food to keep you at bay.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Another one (not me) bites the dust

Schadenfreude? Moi? NEVAIRE. Okay maybe sometimes, like with this story: major GOP funder Richard Mellon Scaife, having cheated on his second wife and having (oops) forgotten to arrange a prenup, faces paying the equivalent of $24,000 per day in alimony. What's that Dorothy Parker line? Oh right, "And sweet's the air with curly smoke from all my burning bridges." Truly, the values party is an example to us all.

Slightly closer to home and much less acrimoniously, Doc and I worked more on downward transitions tonight, trying to go smoothly from the canter to the trot. It was only moderately successful, what with him wanting to run and run and run, and he tripped several times, at one point pulling me forward in such a way that something in my back went *plink.* Oofah. He could use another rider to work with him, preferably one with more training experience than I have, but that's true of lots of the schoolies and therefore seems unlikely. Kim came down as we were wrapping up and turned out her new mare in the paddock just next to the ring. The bay and Doc checked one another out quietly for a few moments, then suddenly she squealed and kicked and so we called an end to that particular session and left her to play with Kim. Doc made faces at his neighbor Princess (or, I like to think, at her pink Izod halter) while I rubbed him down, then he walked very decorously into his stall and stood still while I took off his halter. Half the time he lunges past me to get to his grain bucket (he's pretty well muscled for someone convinced he's starving to death), but we're getting him better at waiting politely. Little steps.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Not enough free time in the week

Lessons from the weekend:
  • Live reggae in a coffeehouse offends the gods, who will soak the surrounding areas in icy rain. Which we need, but possibly could not so much of it have gone sideways?
  • If you want to see the face of desperate addiction, the counter of the only coffee bar in the Ren Fest at 10:01, where the victims customers glare at staff who seem unable to keep track of orders, is a good place to look. Or a very very bad one.
  • The Mediaeval Baebes' live show is oddly similar to that of the Pipettes: moderately decent singing, excellent backup musicians, and heavy emphasis on the "pretty women doing dance routines" aspect. Without the heavy engineering, they sounded a little thin, which might also have been due to the outdoor acoustics.
  • There are still people who do not realize that you should know your drink order BEFORE you reach the bar and that thoughts of murder percolate in the heads of those behind you in line if you wait until you are facing the bartender to say, "Wait, what do all you guys want?"
  • Michael Rosman does a phenomenal juggling routine with cigar boxes, a thing I haven't seen since the Moscow Circus came to town. (Speaking of which, hurray! The feds are keeping us safe from the dangers of international performers! Jesus Christ.)
  • If you want to make a new mother very happy, sign her up for a massage appointment and don't let her say no.
  • My aggro levels go up when I have to listen to an acupuncturist tell a roomful of people that proper chi maintenance prevents cancer, heart disease, and immune disorders. No wonder we are overrun with 900-year-old kung fu masters. Oh wait.
  • Wong People's lion dance kicks ass. Not only do the young drummers have a "Do not fear, WONG PEOPLE ARE HERE" banner, their lion does cartwheels. Cartwheels! And also, at one point, he appears to lick his harbls, which I have never seen a dancing lion do and find greatly amusant.
  • Dumbledore was, unbeknownst to all save the slashers, teh ghey. Hilariously, actor Michael Gambon, who plays the headmaster in the movies and is apparently known for taking the piss out of interviewers, once told a reporter that he has no problem playing gay characters because he himself used to be homosexual but was forced to give it up "because it made my eyes water." Dear Lord how I do love the British.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Finally I stop squeaking

Western again last night, this time with somewhat better results. We got the slower speeds more consistently, but Doc had some problems that are probably related to stiffness on one side of his body, so I will work with him in the next few weeks on getting more balanced. Nothing is as much fun or easy when you're all achy along one side, although he did his damnedest to assure everyone that he was perfectly happy running on the wrong lead, just let him run can we run now please to run fast run now? (I paraphrase.) The fox that has taken to strolling across the ring as though it is his private demesne did not show up, perhaps because on Monday, after he sauntered into the middle of the ring, Doc and I herded him right back out. He yawned at us from beyond the safety of the fence; Doc snorted and turned away.

Congrats to Rock Ninja, who is all be-shotted and ready to head out to Uganda for a cool new project ("You've done great work! Now go get some needles stuck in ya!"). I am jealous and can only hope that the meetings my group is mulling over hosting in Rio or Buenos Aires work out sooner rather than later. Texas and Washington state are nice enough, but I've made my feelings about Argentina clear; not all the breakfast tacos in Austin would woo me away from a pampas-lean steak. Should we sway slightly northward, well, a lonely pot of feijoada will alway have a home with me. Pass the cachaca?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Oh hell and death and yay!

I sometimes get very frustrated in dressage. I've been working steadily with Cappi, who as I've mentioned is tiny and makes me feel sometimes that I'm trying to balance on top of a tootsie roll, which is a problem because I've got relatively long legs and find myself having to pretzel myself up just to get some contact with him. (Wow, after that sentence I suddenly want a ton of junk food. Back in a sec.)

But he still runs away, and sometimes he's not responsive, and it's tough to tell whether I'm not getting the right results because I'm doing it wrong or because he's confused or both. No cabe duda that I've managed to improve my seat and hands, vide my ability not to fall off when Cappi takes off in terror of invisible cthulus, but basic stuff like bending the horse at the walk, getting the leg yield, and turning smoothly so often evade me. It's a little like those annoying yoga teachers who tell you not to compete with other students, but when the intern on the next mat has tucked her heels into her armpits and looks transcendently smug, you always do anyway (it's either that or reach over to tickle her to see what happens); I am trying to be happy with my own progress, but I want to be doing more. In other words, I'm perfectly pleased with how I'm doing, I just wish I were doing better faster sooner.

Tonight went fairly well, with only one runaway, and we tried some bending work that I kind of sort of managed. But after class, as I was rinsing off Cappi's bridle, Pat came up and said firmly, "Put your helmet back on and come ride my horse. I want you to see how the shoulder-in should feel." I couldn't decide between "ohshit" and "fuck YEAH," because Pat's horse is (a) enormous, (b) super sensitive, and (c) highly trained. She's universally popular, because she loves spending time with people and will happily snorgle you for hours, but Pat's told us enough stories about her training adventures that I was a little nervous about putting a heel wrong and finding myself hanging from a treebranch. Pat snapped on a lunge line, though, so I probably wasn't going to get a fast trip anywhere exciting and therefore had no excuse to chicken out, and I climbed up feeling like I was reaching the third story of a building (Cappi: 14.2 hands; QC: 17+, or about a foot and a half taller). We did some simple bending work that was noticeably different from Cappi's intermittent responses to my confusing signals. It was like dancing with other dance students and then briefly getting paired with an experienced partner; there was a real clarity and sense of relief from having my signals interpreted correctly or at least seeing QC react when I fixed my hands. Cappi is probably not the best horse for me (Seesterperson: "I do not trust this Cappi. He seems to be a wild one"), but my goal is to understand him better and make it easier for him to do what I want, so each step is helpful.

But it still feels like I'm building a sand castle one grain at a time.

Et cetera

A day without riding is a day that will be followed by some singularly pointless posting. It turns out that an evening of laundry, paying the bills, and eating the butternut squash soup I made from Weebat's recipe (not shown: extensive prolonged cursing during the struggle to peel the squash) doth not a fruitful posting make.

Randomly, then, I bring glad tidings about the NYC yogurt chain's for expansion: "We will 'berry you." Also, here's a bit of fabulous from Defenestration magazine, the less-irritating heir of McSweeney's and makers of the pitch-perfect abridged Jude the Obscure vid. This one's for The Vamp, who lately has been operating on about twenty minutes of continuous sleep per night due to her new arrival's jet lag; maybe laughter can sub for some of the missing snooze time.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Training pays off

Or so I am assured it eventually will, but after an hour of arguing with Doc about whether he was going to be allowed to run around like a mad thing or whether he should run at a more measured pace, I'm a bit disheartened. He's a sweet sweet horse, but he needs more speed work than the barn affords such a calm fellow, so he takes advantage of chances to run. Better he do it with me on his back than some terrified moppet, since I not-so-secretly get a kick out of how much he's helped improve my seat and ability to relax at faster gaits. But still, I was hoping to lay down some good foundations for the next western class, when we're supposed to run a pattern that tests your control of transitions from trot to canter. Our mutual taste for speedy work may have put paid to that idea for a while.

Here, however, is an example of what good training can do. Cutting is a rodeo sport derived from standard cowboy work, when you may need to cut individual cows out of a herd for doctoring or other herd maintenance. In competition, a rider cuts a cow out of the herd and is judged on how well the horse works on its own to keep the cow separated from its bovine fellows. A good rider with a well-trained partner will just sit calmly in the middle of the horse, letting it jink and dive to block the cow. In this video, the rider apparently fell off not long after pointing his horse at the cow he wanted. The horse clearly feels that that is just details, people, details. There's a cow to thwart! Yow.

Desultory review: "Elizabeth: The Golden Age"

I had no problems with the original "Elizabeth"—how could I, with Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, and Christopher Eccleston all snarling and snapping at one another in a deathmatch power struggle?—even though it took some liberties with the actual history. Kapur got the story pretty much right, following Elizabeth's transition from politically inexperienced young woman (granted, it's debatable that she was ever truly naive, given her family) to iconic figure and skillful manipulator, and more to the point, the story actually progressed. With the sequel, he's got John "You Can Call Me Doctah" Dee, Francis "I'll Be In My Hammock" Drake, Walter "Put That In Your Pipe" Raleigh, and the whole bloody Spanish Armada, along with Elizabeth's burgeoning cult of personality; you'd think the movie would be a cinch. But no, apparently it's not exciting enough to show how a schemey competent woman handled national crisis; far better to have lots of her waffling between her political goals and her need for lurrrrve, with occasional breaks for posing and endless shots through glass because DO YOU SEE, IT'S ALL ABOUT DISTANCE AND IMAGE DO YOU GET IT YET DO YOU? Halfway through the movie I gave up hope, slumped down in my seat, and waited for it to be over, whenever that might be; eventually the ships would show up and maybe then I could go home. So sure, fine, the Armada was completely destroyed by fireships off Tilbury rather than just being driven to their destruction off Ireland. Hey, okay, Raleigh was so studly that he rode a blazing frigate straight into a Spanish ship, steering with his force of personality rather than the wheel. Good, whatever, Philip of Spain learned of his defeat by intoning (in dreadful slow mincing Spanish), "Elizabeth is the dark, I am the light," and seeing a candle blown out. I dun care. You've smothered me into indifference with the Elizabethan vogueing and the flirting with Raleigh and the Raleigh/Bess smooches and the oh here's Mary Stewart and the hey Jesuits hang out in a basement dyeing shit red because it looks more ominous and the Catholics generally all flashing the evil eyeliner and I am putting on my WTF parka and heading for WTFistan because you've somehow made this all so dull.

Seriously, if the words "bored now" come to mind in describing your depiction of one of England's best-known historical events, yor doin it wrong.

Saturday, October 13, 2007


Mother Nature spent this week acting like someone who misplaced her appointment book and then had to scramble around catching up, all, "Oh, shit, it's supposed to be autumn, I totally overslept, damn damn damn." So the weather went from summery hot to crisply autumnal in about 20 minutes, without the benefit of rain (which, and oh God do I sound like my raised-in-an-epic-drought grandmother, we need). I love the crispy time of year, but did I mention being nervous about the horses when the mercury takes that kind of dive? I was nervous.

As if it weren't enough that we were facing frisky ponies, we also have a new teacher for the Western class, Teacherwoman Mk 1 having taken a job that will involve too much travel during the week for her to keep up a regular class schedule. Mk 2 is a very different woman, and her insistence that we use three-quarter rein rather than one-handed neck reining will take getting used to, but it sounds like she's going to be better about having plans for each class. God knows she made Thursday's hour a workout. We were down in the lower ring, where the wind and cold were making Doc see giant boogers in the woods (he had already dropped one rider that day, and a crashing sound in the trees sent him skittering, head high and nostrils flared, to the other side of the ring), and Mk 2 had us doing jog/lope transitions. The problem with that plan was that Doc, once he gets to speed up, doesn't always want to come back down right away. The idea was that we would do five strides of jog, three or four of lope, and back down, repeating it all for several turns around the ring and being sure not to cut corners, drift, get the wrong lead, jerk the reins, bounce in the saddle, or commit a multitude of other sins, any of which was quickly pointed out. By the end of my time on the rail, I was panting, but Doc was doing his transitions just as I'd asked rather than pitching headlong down the track. Quoth Mk 2, "Too many people at this barn think Western is about sitting back and looking cute. IT AIN'T." Yes ma'am. "Although it helps if you're cute to start off." Heh. The barn is planning an informal show in early November, so we're being urged to pull out our most cowboy clothes and make it look flashy. Maybe it's good thing that I haven't yet gotten the fringe trimmed off my chaps (me to Seesterperson on buying them: "Great, I'm the only person in the family with assless pants." Seesterperson: "That you know of").

There may finally be a new student joining our Western class, after years in which Sterling's mum and I were the only constants; one of the guys who works at the barn and has been riding English is interested in crossing disciplines. He's completely sweet and very good with the horses, which are points in his favor, but he's so young that I feel like a granny lady around him. It doesn't help that he's ridiculously polite to his elders, which is laudable in theory but turns out to be somewhat discomfiting in practice. I'll just have to make peace with that.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Thursday, October 11, 2007


A few years ago, Making Light proposed a useful rule of thumb: "If, on appropriate occasions, the members tell, enjoy, trade, and/or devise transgressively funny jokes about their denomination, it’s a church. If such jokes reliably meet with stifling social disapproval, it’s a cult." The sorts of jokes made around my church are certainly esoteric (I once made a pun about omphaloskepsis and a convert who worked at the Naval Observatory, and other people got the joke), but that's part of the fun.

Still, the time I told a young Greek priest who visited me in the hospital that he was ten minutes too late, the Catholic guy had made a better case and I was off the Ortho roster? Probably not funny enough (in my defense, it had been an epically bad week). Certainly it didn't reach the guy, who turned out to be just out of seminary and therefore temporarily not in command of his sense of perspective. I think he recovered; word has it he's turned into a good guy to talk to.

That said, I'm still not going to forward him the Colbert Religion Randomizer, even though I can't stop pressing "CONVERT" and laughing. CONVERT! CONVERT!

Same city, different day

How do I love thee, Manhattan? Well, to be frank I love thee a little less when it's warm and humid, because your perfume, she is not so fabulous. The fougere of hot dog water with a base of fermenting trash and exhaust, touched with pungent notes of exotic dried's bold, don't get me wrong, but it's maybe a bit much, yes?

But olfactory issues aside, NYC remains my favorite place to meander around, finding things strange and wonderful (Munchies Paradise, Edge*nyNOHO), strange and disturbing (9/11 commemorative socks? bu yao), familiar and caloric (hail, Via Brasil, to your inky black beans and their symbiotic partner, a vicious caipirinha), and, of course, expensive and alluring. Oh, Tom SoHung's full-skirted black cashmere coat with the wicked vampy collar and zebra-print lining, ours is a forbidden love. We musn't, darling, it would be so wrong.

Perhaps the oddest thing we saw was a tour group being led into (and just as quickly out of) Rocco's Pastry. The place has been there since 1974, which you wouldn't think qualified it as a historical landmark, but it's evidently enough of a neighborhood institution to have made the bus lists. As La Mère, Seesterperson, and I were resting our tired feets and recharging with some of Rocco's finest on Sunday, we spotted a guide hectoring his ducklings just outside the door. He then brought them in, led them up and down the pastry counter, herded them away from the tables, handed each a miniature cannoli, and briskly fussed them out again. What the hell? What kind of fun is that? You take me into a famous bakery, just you git out the way and let me ogle the options before I pick summat my own self. Obviously not all of us can hack the tour.

Now that the temperature is dropping in DC, we're all breathing a sigh of relief. The speed with which it's falling makes me a little nervous, on account of Doc acts like a Sugar Smacked toddler when it gets cool, and while frisking around all colt-like is very fine in its place, he's a 1200-pound beast and his gambols carry some weight. We will have to talk about restraint, and, probably, will do some extra running around to let him feel his oats. It's nice to know what to expect, at least. Last night when I went in for dressage, he was being tacked up for a different lesson; his manners are too good for him to walk off while he's being groomed, but his head came up and his nostrils widened, so I patted him and promised him an apple after he got done. His affections can't necessarily be bought, but they can certainly be swayed.